Flatulence: Common Causes and Treatment

By Sabina Rebis, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
July 25, 2022

Flatulence, also called passing gas or farting, is often a source of amusement for kids and can be a source of discomfort or embarrassment for adults.

But this phenomenon is a natural part of digestion. 

This article talks about flatulence, its formation during digestion, and what foods can cause it.

We also talk about other causes of flatulence and how these problems are diagnosed and treated.

Lastly, we will learn when it’s time to see a medical professional about flatulence concerns. 

What is Flatulence?

Flatulence occurs when you have excessive gas build-up in your intestine.

The gas that passes through your intestine and is released through the oral cavity or anus and is called  flatus.

Some people may feel that they have excess or malodorous flatus.

Most people pass gas about 13-21 times a day.

If it is above this, it may mean you are passing excessive gas.

You can expect to have more intestinal gas symptoms, including bloating or distention, burping or passing gas after large meals, carbonated beverages, or certain foods that may contribute to excess gas production. 

Concerned about flatulence? Chat with a provider through K Health.

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How Does Flatulence Form During Digestion?

There are two sources of flatulence:

  • Air swallowed while eating
  • The process of breaking down food by bacteria in your intestines. 

Swallowed air

While eating and drinking, everyone swallows some air.

Unfortunately, that air goes into your stomach and can only escape through the oral cavity by burping or the rectal/anal region by passing gas. 

To decrease the amount of air you swallow:

  • Don’t chew gum or suck on hard candy
  • Stay away from carbonated drinks
  • Don’t drink or eat too fast
  • Don’t smoke
  • Wear correctly fitting dentures. 

Bacteria 

In your large intestine, you have an extensive collection of organisms including bacteria, that make up your gut microbiome.

The purpose of these microbes is to aid with digestion. 

Certain foods contain carbohydrates that don’t get broken down in the stomach and small intestine.

Instead, these undigested carbohydrates pass into the large intestine, where bacteria break them down.

During this digestion process, intestinal gas is made.

The odor of gas comes from bacteria in your intestines releasing gas that contains sulfur. 

Foods That Cause Flatulence

The following foods and drinks can cause you to have more flatulence. 

  • Vegetables like broccoli, collard greens, kale, cauliflower
  • Fruits and fruit juices made of apples, peaches, and pears
  • Drinks that contain high-fructose corn syrup
  • Dairy products (especially if you are lactose intolerant)
  • Whole wheat grains
  • Legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils
  • Sweeteners such as mannitol, xylitol, sorbitol, erythritol, and maltitol
  • High-fat foods

Other Causes

Other than what you eat, some medical problems may cause extra flatulence. 

Constipation

Constipation occurs when your stool gets hard and dry and becomes painful to pass, and you have less than three bowel movements a week.

When you are constipated, you can have more flatulence than average. 

Changing your diet and increasing your fluid intake can relieve  your constipation.

There are also over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can help. 

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a problem of the large intestines that cause bloating, cramping, and changes in your stool.

IBS is harmless but uncomfortable, and scientists believe it may be related to neurotransmitters that play a role in depression and anxiety

Sometimes eating more fiber and avoiding gluten can relieve those suffering from IBS symptoms.

The FODMAP diet  provides guidance on which foods to avoid when dealing with irritable bowel syndrome.  

Lactose intolerance

Being lactose intolerant means your body has a hard time digesting lactose.

Lactose is a sugar present in dairy products.

Your body has an enzyme called lactase that breaks down lactose.

However, some people don’t make enough lactase which can cause lactose intolerance. 

If you are lactose intolerant, you will notice symptoms about 20 minutes to two hours after drinking or eating lactose containing dairy products.

You may experience:

Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease occurs  part of your intestines is chronically inflamed.

The inflammation can happen present  any part of your digestive tract, from your oral cavity to your anus.

Symptoms of Crohn’s disease may include:

Scientists believe Crohn’s disease may be an autoimmune disorder.

There also seems to be a genetic factor because you are more likely to have Crohn’s disease if someone else in your family has it.  

Ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory disease that affects the rectum and colon.

It results in  sores, also called ulcers, in the intestine lining.

It typically starts between the ages of 15 and 30 but can begin at any age.

The most common symptoms of ulcerative colitis are stomach pain and bloody, mucousy loose stools. 

Hernia

Hernias are a common problem.

They happen when part of the intestine bulges through a weakened area of the muscle wall.

Some people are born with hernias; others develop them by straining, such as lifting something very heavy. 

Small hernias may have no symptoms, while larger ones can cause pain and digestion complications if not treated.

Learning more about hernias will help you understand how they can cause flatulence and to know when to seek medical help. 

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestines.

As a result, the immune system is abnormally sensitive to gluten, and eating foods that contain it can cause long-term damage to the intestinal lining.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. 

Celiac disease can have many symptoms, a few of which include:

Peptic ulcers

A peptic ulcer is a sore in the lining of your stomach or small intestine.

The ulcers form when there is an over secretion of stomach acid that injures the stomach lining.

An infection with the bacterium, Helicobacter pylori is a common cause of peptic ulcers.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can also cause ulcers. 

The most common symptom of a peptic ulcer is burning stomach pain that starts after eating and may occur at night. 

Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic condition affecting how your body processes sugar.

Having chronically high blood sugar can affect the nerves that control digestion and lead to a condition called gastroparesis.

Gastroparesis results in the slowing down of digestion. 

Typically your stomach and intestines work together to process and digest the food you eat, but with gastroparesis, that process, called peristalsis is slowed.

This prevents  food from being emptied from your stomach at a regular pace. 

Symptoms include:

Diagnosis

To determine why you pass excessive gas, your medical provider will start by reviewing your medical history and current medications. 

Then they will perform a physical exam, gently pressing your abdomen and listening to your bowel sounds. 

They will ask you questions about your symptoms and diet. 

If further testing is needed, your medical provider may order some of the following tests:

  • Blood work to check your overall health
  • Stool sample to have your stool evaluated by a lab
  • Hydrogen breath test to check for an overgrowth of bacteria
  • Upper GI scope to see the inside of your GI tract
  • Colonoscopy to check the lower half of your GI tract

Treatment

Treatment depends on what the underlying cause of your excessive flatulence is.

It may be as simple as determining what your  food intolerances and modifying your diet

If the problem is related to a more  serious condition, your medical provider may suggest medications to help or other necessary interventions.  

Prevention

To reduce or prevent excessive flatulence, you may need to change your eating and drinking habits.

Keep a food journal to learn what foods are causing more flatulence and learn to avoid them.

To swallow less air, avoid carbonated beverages, chewing gum, and talking while drinking and eating. 

Concerned about flatulence? Chat with a provider through K Health.

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When to See a Medical Professional

If your flatulence is severe and persistent, or you are also experiencing the following symptoms, it’s time to see your medical professional.

  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Change in your stools
  • Blood or mucus in your stool
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heartburn

How K Health Can Help

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Frequently Asked Questions

What causes frequent flatulence?
The foods you eat can cause or contribute to the excessive flatulence you have. Eating complex carbohydrates that are difficult to digest can make you more bloated and have extra flatulence. Some medical conditions such as food intolerances, ulcers, hernias, or gastroparesis can also cause you to have more gas.
Is flatulence a fart?
Yes, flatulence is another term for farting, which is when trapped intestinal gas leaves the body through the anus.
When should I be concerned about excessive flatulence?
Flatulence is a normal part of everyday digestion. However, if you believe you may have excess gas, the odor is severe, or you are experiencing other abdominal problems like pain, blood in your stool, or vomiting, this is concerning and requires a medical evaluation.
How can I reduce flatulence?
Keep a food journal, track what foods give you extra flatulence, and learn to avoid those foods. Stay away from chewing gum and carbonated beverages, and try to avoid talking while you eat.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Sabina Rebis, MD

Dr. Sabina Rebis is a board certified family medicine physician with over 5 years of primary care and urgent care experience.